I lost my grandfather on the 10th of September. He was close to ninety and had been ill on and off for many years. Somewhere in my mind I knew that his time was limited but of course none of us knew when it would be time to go. I got to know of his passing from my parents. Almost immediately after that I found a flood of messages on Facebook. I stayed away from that medium. While I appreciated the time people took to remember him and the kind words they wrote, I felt he deserved more than a fleeting mention on a swiftly changing newsfeed. I wanted to remember him in a more permanent manner, hence this post.
I spent a large part of my childhood with my paternal grandparents. Being the first grandchild I was much loved and wanted. Every summer vacation and any other vacation that my parents would consent to would be spent at their house. Living in small educational township, they had privileges unique to such places. The community was close-knit and everyone really did know everyone else. With only cycles (and an odd scooter or two) for transportation, they had the cleanest air to breathe. At nighttime you could spend hours gazing at the sky, counting innumerable twinkling stars. The roads were wide and tree-lines. The solitary shopping area offered such few spending avenues, that even with the measly Institute salary you could probably save more than you ever can in the city. External source of entertainment were few. That meant you learnt to keep yourself busy with sports, crafts and socializing. The entire township wrapped up in a couple of kilometers and this made sure that nothing and no one was too far away. The sprawling house they lived in was another benefit of the township. The two-storied house came with a hedged front lawn and a backyard full of fruit trees. The backyard opened out to the shifting sands and sand dunes of the vast Thar desert.
Arriving in the township as a student in the pre-partition era, my grandfather made it his home for over fifty years. After completing his studies, he worked for a short while in Calcutta and quickly realized that life was not for him. He came back to his alma mater and over the years took many academic and administrative posts. He continued to work for over ten years after his retirement.
My relationship with my grandfather was wonderful.But on that smooth road of life, there were some rough patches. I would be lying if I said there weren’t any. As I grew up, there were differences in approach and beliefs on certain issues. Sometimes we agreed and sometimes we didn’t. When we didn’t, we chose to disagree without making much noise. He wasn’t one for much discussion or persuasion or even negotiation. I think that came partly from character and partly from belonging to an older generation.
Despite the rough patches, there are hundreds of things that I would remember my grandfather for. Things that I believe made him stand apart, gave him character. Some of which I wish to inculcate in myself.
- A man of few words, he spoke little. For those who didn’t know him, that quiet exterior was unnerving. Those who knew him were used to it. They also knew that he spoke little, raised his voice almost never, but when he said something, he meant it.
- My grandparents (and my parents) are the hardest working people I have met. I am not lazy and manage a job and a house largely on my own. My days are pretty full but inspite that I don’t think I have ever worked as much as them. I have time for leisure. That luxury I didn’t seen my grandparents or parents enjoy. Hard work takes you a long way. My grandfather’s life reaffirms this. Starting with practically only an education in hand, he worked hard to build a life for himself and his family. I didn’t see him participate much in the household, but when he was at home, he was usually working. Either it was some Institute related work, or a book he was writing or editing, or an academic discussion with a bunch of students he had called home. There was hardly any time he wasted. His only indulge was the television- limited hours and mostly the news.
- A determined man, he approached his goals with focus and grit. When he worked, the world around him ceased to exist. It would take a few moments and a call or two before he could pull himself out of his work. Such was his concentration.
- My grandfather was extremely disciplined. His day was neatly divided into time slots, each with a specific task. He was extremely particular about sticking to his schedule. As a child the schedule was at times impressive and at times annoying. It was difficult to understand how someone could keep a schedule day after day, without a break. In the last few years, health failed him, yet he did his best to keep his schedule.
- Everything associated with him was neat and orderly. On his side table next to his sofa (which doubled up as his writing corner) lay a tiny tray with neatly lined up pencils and pens, an eraser and a pocket comb. You weren’t allowed to fidget with that tray. If you picked a pencil (as privileged grandchild we were allowed) it had to be returned. The pocket comb was used several times in the day- his hair needed to be absolutely in place. He placed hand-embroidered (my grandmother’s creations) napkins on the sofa arms. That was the arrangement he had for as long as I could remember. I remember opening his cupboard a few months before he passed on. It was exactly as I remembered it as a child. Tidily stacked shirts and pants and handkerchiefs.
- Being a disciplined man, indulges weren’t for him. He once told me he was an occasional smoker as a young man. He gave that up once he made up his mind about it.
- Truly fond of getting and giving an education, he motivated countless students and relatives to pursue higher studies. I think may be with me he was a little disappointed because I neither studied the subjects he loved nor did I get a Ph. D.!
- He was worldly wise and managed his money well. On a limited income, he gave his three children a fabulous education and made adequate retirement plans for himself. Today I earn more than he did at the time of his retirement. I still dont think I have the ability to juggle my money as smartly as he did.
As much as he loved us grandchildren, he was strict with us. Summer vacations were a lot of fun but sprinkled with a good dose of work. There was no over-sleeping, no laziness, no last minute hurriedly completed holiday home-work. We had a schedule that involved studies, sports, a small amount of TV, lots of wholesome home-made food and lots of friends. It wasn’t that he was heartless. Within his disciplined approach, he found space for indulging us. He made sure there was a crate of Thumbs Up waiting for us when we reached home after the journey from Delhi. But it was one crate and we had to make it last the vacation. He even bought us an expensive brand of chewing gum a few times during the summer months. He took us to his office in the Institute car (such a privilege!) and let us spend hours scribbling on the large blackboard with colored chalk. When the parents came to fetch us, he’d take everyone to the guest house for a rare treat of authentic Rajasthani food. Once in a blue moon, he’d let us go venture into desert (of course, supervised) and visit the sandy hamlet from where the house help lived. He’d take us with him on his morning walk; introducing us to people we met. Once every summer, he’d arrange for a car to take us comfortably to the outskirts of the township. With my grandmother in -charge, we’d visit a local lac bangle maker and choose dozens of colourful bangles. We couldn’t wear bangles to school but he’d let us collect them anyway. He would take the time to personally oversee the homework. I have distinct memories of him sitting with me on that big dining table solving maths problems.
It’s a whole life of memories and it’s mixed. Some happy, some sad, some bittersweet. Its actually too much to put down in words. And when words fail me, I take to pictures.
This is my grandfather at my parents’ wedding. He looks joyous and healthy. This is also the only time I have seen him dance!
This picture was given to me by my grandmother some months back. She said there were too many picture to keep and she was giving them away to children/grandchildren. I remember this occasion particularly well. It was a wedding in the family and I attended it with my grandparents. Lost in a sea of relatives, known and unknown, I clung to dada.